Sunday, July 29, 2012

Memories of Bumbry & Baseball

Going to the ballgame with GoofBoy the other day brought back an odd memory.

I haven't gone to many Major League Baseball games in the past twenty years - since the strike year when they cancelled the World Series.  In particular I stayed away from Camden Yards because, while it was beautiful, I grew up loving baseball in Memorial Stadium.  The first time I went to Camden Yards, sometime in the 1990s, I only recognized one participant - and it wasn't a player - it was former Oriole outfielder Al Bumbry, who was a coach.  I have fond memories of Al Bumbry.  (The picture comes from the Orioles Cards Blog, which cannot view too much since it makes me misty-eyed.)

When I was a little boy my mom dropped my brother and I off at the Randallstown library where went to a basement room to meet Oriole centerfielder Al Bumbry.

Everything about that statement stuns me in retrospect.  My mom just dropped me off (I was less than 10), with my brother (four years younger) in my charge.  And we met a major league ball player in the basement room of a public library, at no charge.  Is any part of that statement still possible?

Someone asked Mr. Bumbry a question about Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey.  Bumbry replied and mentioned that Dempsey was the second best defensive catcher in the league and asked if anyone knew who was the best.

I piped up, "Jim Sundberg of the Texas Rangers."

"That's right," Bumbry replied.

My brother grinned proudly, "My brother knows all that stuff!"

I remember Bumbry nodding towards us, smiling, and saying, "I'll bet he does."

Maybe he just favored us with a friendly grin.  Either way, it was big.  As an elder brother I was terrible.  My attitudes towards my sibling ranged from utter ambivalence to sheer cruelty.  I never stuck up for him, played with him, or gave him attention.  I was also incredibly weird and gave him no glory reflected glory to bask in.  But, for that one moment, in the basement of the Randallstown Library it was great to be my little brother.

I have another memory of Al Bumbry.  In 1979, after the Orioles defeated the Angels to win the American League pennant, TV reporters entered the Oriole locker room.  Al Bumbry was there, sitting on top of some lockers, grinning and unwilling to come down.  He was intoxicated, I assumed he was drunk but it was the late 70s so who knows?  But I need to emphasize, I was not disturbed by this at all.

Alcoholism, of course, is a very sad thing.  But I didn't think Al Bumbry was an alcoholic.  My thinking was quite simple: the Orioles had just won the pennant, which to my 9 year old mind was, on the scale of human achievement, on par with the Moon Landing.  It seemed entirely appropriate to me that after something like that an adult who is so inclined might "tie one on."

The next year, 1980, Bumbry had a fantastic season - the best of his career.  Moderation in all things.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tales of Proportion & Fairness between Siblings

Several weeks ago, before GoofBoy headed off to sleep-away camp, I decided to do something special for him. I took him to an Oriole game at Camden Yards.  Naturally, as is my wont, I told him nothing about it until we were on the light rail heading into Baltimore.

As a last minute bonus, a friend and his son joined us at the game and we had a great time.  Nice shaded seats, good company, and our beloved Orioles won in  a close well-played game.  We don't go to many ballgames - that's my fault because our region offers two major league and at least four minor league teams in a reasonable driving distance.  I particularly like the minor league games because they much cheaper, much faster, far more convenient, and nicely intimate (sometimes you can actually hear the players on the field.)  Also, I've been on strike against the Major Leagues since 1992 when they cancelled the World Series - I only go to ball games for people I care about, like GoofBoy.

But Camden Yards is a beautiful place to see a game and it was a very nice and special day.

GoofGirl's Complaint
There was a small problem.

"Daddy, you always take my brother on special things but not me," GoofGirl pouted.

When I was little, my younger brother once called my father cheap.  That set my dad off because, whatever his failings (and we all have them) he was NOT cheap.  I remember several times my expressing an interest in some computer game that was $20 (a lordly sum to my early adolescent self) and he would order it on the spot.

This came close, but I only yell on strict discipline issues, and I could tell that she felt slighted.

"Nina, you might be right.  Can you give me some ideas of special things we could do?"

"Well, there is this cute kitty stuffed animal..."

"Now that's part of the problem, your only idea for special things is stuffed animals.  You already have too many.  I want to do special things with you, but I am not just going to buy you more stuffed animals.  If you want me to take you to a museum or to a park - whatever you like, but no more stuffed animals."

"I'd like to go to New York!"

"No, that isn't realistic for a little surprise."

"So everything my brother wants he gets, but you won't do the things I want for me!" GoofGirl wailed.

"No, that is not it.  I would love to take you to New York.  I will take you to New York.  But that is not the same as taking your brother to a baseball game."

"It's not fair!"

"It is fair, what you want is out of proportion."

"Is that a big word for why you love my brother more then me?"

"I love you both the same - which is more then anything. Going to New York is a very big deal, much bigger then going to a ballgame.  Two tickets to the game cost about $100," GoofGirl's eyes grew wide at this, "and the game and getting to Baltimore took about five hours. OK?"

GoofGirl nodded, the mention of money got her attention.

"But," I continued, "Just going to New York would take five hours.  So we would need to go for a couple of days to make it worth it.  That means a hotel room in New York which is probably going to cost at least $200 a night.  So you see, a trip to New York needs a lot of time, money, and planning.  Doing that would be a much, much bigger deal then a baseball game.  Now can you tell me somethings you are interested in that smaller then that?"

"Well, I'd like to see an ocelot," GoofGirl said, she had done a big paper on ocelots for school.

"Well, OK! Remember that zoo in Salisbury on the way to Ocean City?  I am pretty sure they have an ocelot.  That would be a great little day trip.  We'll do it! But one thing.  We can't bring their ocelot home with us - if that's what you were thinking."

"Darn," she muttered, my efforts to reason shattered.

Fortunately, GoofGirl cheered up later.  While her brother and I were at the game - Bubbe took her to Build-a-Bear and she got a new stuffed animal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Playing Restaurant on a Rainy Afternoon

This weekend GoofGirl and 3C were playing restaurant and asked me to be the customer.  I was not keen on this, as the whole point of a playdate is so that I DON'T have to entertain my children.

But then GoofGirl said, "Daddy, you're going to like our restaurant, it's a brewpub."

OK - I'm in.

Clearly GoofGirl has been listening to MamaGoof and I discuss our favorite libation, she presented me with the sampler, but she was also very clear that I couldn't try to much beer, the restaurant had had to give another customer a ride home because they had had too much beer.

"Daddy, the first beer is a lager that is tangy and is made with cocoa.  The second beer is an IPA and the third one is a stout.  The last one isn't beer it's schnaps for after dinner.  Drink slowly and tell us which one is your favorite."

After I tried some beer they brought me soup.  Unfortunately it was Alpha-bet soup and I am incredibly allergic to the letter L.  Fortunately, they were prepared to provide me with emergency medical treatment that involved jumping on me - I guess to force the L out of my system.  Well, it worked.

One innovation of this restaurant is that the staff bellowed at me and each other with little plastic microphones.  I tried to convince them that this was not good customer service (and also that it might wake up MamaGoof who was taking a well-earned nap.)  But, without the microphones, 3C did not get to engage the customer and yelling at me was the fun part of the operation.

The main course was, of course, pizza.  But they put so many toppings that I got bloated.  I told GoofGirl she'd need to burp me.

"Daddy, waiters don't burp people!"

"Do you want a tip?"

"It's a pretend restaurant, there is no tip."

"C'mon, I burped you hundreds of times - you just have to burp me once!"

Finally, she agreed and 3C came by and pounded on my back for awhile (which was good because it meant she wasn't shouting at me through a surprisingly effective plastic microphone.

Then it was time for the bill.  Oddly, the girls insisted that I pay them in real money, an interesting gambit that I was not falling for.  So when I refused to pay, they made me "do the dishes," i.e. clean-up the thousands of little pretend food and kitchen items that they had used in their restaurant.

This may have been their plan all along.

Friday, July 20, 2012

GoofBoy's Academics

The summer has flown by, and the little Goofs have had so many adventures - with more coming.  But between the power outage and a little getaway for MamaGoof & I we've been a bit busy I haven't even finished discussing their school year.

School is out, and GoofBoy closed out the year with a tour de force.  He and a friend wrote their own version of the Torah – in Hebrew!  He ran out of time and couldn’t do the whole thing, so he focused on Exodus.  He spent a great deal of time updating the plagues.  There were only five plagues, because for the fifth plague Snooki and Jersey Shore came to Egypt and Pharoah relented immediately.  He explained that this was why the Israelites wandered in the Sinai for 40 years - Snooki was getting a tan.

Biblical Hebrew does not have a word for Jersey Shore, or Snooki.  He rehearsed his presentation for me (he insists on doing this even though he knows I don’t know Hebrew.)  But it was odd to hear the Holy Language punctuated occasionally with the word “Snooki.”

He also worked with friends to create this extensive PowerPoint presentation.  Which leaves me with a single profound question: what are they doing with my tuition money?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Power Outage II: Livin' Like a Refugee

When our power was out for about 15 hours and as temperatures rose into triple digits, MamaGoof declared that it was time to flee.  We gathered our most critical belongings and what food we could fit into coolers and like Steinbeck’s Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl we fled (if Okies had iPads and an air-conditioned mini-van.)

We headed to Baltimore, long a land of promise for those fleeing persecution and tragedy – and more importantly the home of BubbeGoof and PopGoof who have a condo with a pool where the power never goes out.  Halfway to Baltimore we learned that their power was out!

Desperate for options I contacted a friend in Baltimore (who conveniently enough I had seen just the week before) and asked if he had power.

“Sure,” he texted, “What’s up?”

Port in the Storm
A greathearted man, he opened his home as a refugee center to us and to all.  Moreover, he has a pool.  We opened our coolers full of food and a great feast was had by all.  My primary contribution is pool duty.  I am absolutely useless in the kitchen for any serious cooking.  I have a couple of go-to’s for my regular dinner/lunch duties with the little Goofs but if you actually want a feast – get me out of the kitchen.  I am human cholesterol, blocking useful activity along the major arteries of productivity.

So when in doubt, I offer to sit by the pool and watch the children.  The downside is that this involves regulating the rather tedious disputes of children (although I have some useful techniques to manage this) and worse, playing with them: judging swimming races, refereeing water fights, and bounding into the water doing enormous cannonballs for their amusement.  Also, I have to make sure they don’t drown.

On the other hand, I get to be in the water.  I really like being in the water, just about more then anything else.  At a pool/birthday party (where I was fulfilling my pool duty role) there was an incident when the kids were told to get out, but I wouldn’t.  Ultimately, I was given a timeout for poor listening and as an example to the children.

We slept over and the next day I went for a run in the high heat through my friends lovely neighborhood of grand – but surprisingly affordable – homes (oh Baltimore, you beckon like a Siren…) 

Then I, stripped to my running shorts and dove into the pool.

My good friend, who assures me that having a pool at the house is an expensive time-consuming hassle that is not worth the effort said the grin on my face when I emerged made all of those hassles almost worth it.

Meanwhile, GoofGirl and one of my friend’s daughters are almost the exact same age (born one day part) and they played happily in the pool.  GoofGirl was telling her new friend complicated stories (based on stories I told her) about Off-Track Betting Centers (I’ll explain all of this in another post…)  Naturally, this little girl was unfamiliar with every aspect of this concept –  starting with betting.  I told the host that this reflects very well on his parenting skills, and perhaps not as well on mine.

All was well, we had smores and there was berry gathering.  But other families needed help as well, another arrived that afternoon and we decided to give them some space.  We, on the other hand, had options and moved on...

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Sleepover Trial Balloon

GoofGirl taught me something last night.  One of my areas of study in my occasionally attended to day job is bureaucratic politics.  GoofGirl helped me understand a key concept in how policy-makers advance positions and conduct their internecine warfare.

Derecho has deprived much of the East Coast of power.  Thankfully, we got our power back a few days ago and were happy to have another family over who was not similarly blessed.  They have a son who is a long-time buddy of GoofGirl.  Oddly, they have partial power – when they turn on some appliances, their neighbors lose power.  I’m not sure anyone really understands electricity.

GoofGirl and her friend decided that he should sleepover (they are 8 so boy-girl sleepover is no issue at all).  So the little boy asked his parents if this was ok.

His parents noted that he had not been invited.

But GoofGirl had invited him! he replied.   

Of course GoofGirl is not authorized to make such invitations without our approval.  However, by making the invitation, her friend could then ask (and possible obtain) permission and thus boxing MamaGoof and I into either saying yes or being the worst parents ever.

It was a brilliant trial balloon and a wonderful illustration of how bureaucratic infighters maneuver people to commit to a position, when they themselves don’t have the authority to commit to it – but can then leverage that commitment (achieved under ambiguous circumstances) with their own higher-ups for further commitment.

Believe it or not, that kind of thing happens in DC all the time.

Morton Halperin couldn’t have demonstrated it any better and clearly GoofGirl has a fine future in the upper reaches on a future administration.

Oh, and by the way, we parents stepped in and shut down the sleepover.  We rule by fiat.  But we were impressed by the effort.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Power Outage I: We are the 10%

Our power is out. This is no surprise somehow. Our block is always the first to lose power and the last to get it back. I don't know why this is. Perhaps we are on a faultline of the electrical grid, or maybe our neighborhood was built on a native American burial ground, or we have failed to appease the PepCo deities with worthy sacrifices (or angered them with our mocking tweets.)

Sometimes we suffer from pre-emptive power outages when there is a report that there might be rain. Maybe, we are taking one for the team, and preserving everyone else's power. We are the chosen substation (next time, choose someone else...)

Regardless, when there is a power outage we are certain to be participating. When there are reports that 90% of their customers have had their power restored know this - the Goofs are the 10%. We look at the houses behind ours and see their lights shining brightly and imagine we hear their televisions. We are learning to be prepared.

Snowpocalypse vs. Derecho
I would say, with some confidence, that we prefer winter outages to summer outages, although we have been fortunate enough to suffer power outages in every season. In our particular substation the powerlines are apparently allergic to pollen and can't function in the spring.  They are also adversely affected by failing leaves in autumn (in November, after the leaves but before the snows sometimes the transformer becomes melancholy and is too sad to transmit power.)

But the mass outages, which leave us nowhere to convenient to flee are most likely to occur in summer and winter. But in the winter, while our furnace can't work without electricity, our gas stove is fine. So MamaGoof starts making soup. This keeps the house warm while providing a steady stream of hot food and beverages. We put on warmer clothes, snuggle in bed, and play board games. Also, we don't worry about the food spoiling, we can just put it outside. Best of all, the aftermath of a winter storm offers a wealth of interesting recreational opportunities (particularly for GoofGirl) and is quite beautiful.

Summer storms offer none of these virtues. Food simply has to rot, it can't be cooked because without AC running the stove cooks the home's denizens faster then the vittles. Perhaps we are a soft, spoiled generation, but without AC life in the DC suburbs becomes rapidly unbearable. No special family time - rather intense irritability sets in with nothing to do and the heat slowly sapping our will.

Winter we can tough out, but summer gives us no choice but to flee.